Leadership Lessons: The ‘Head Fake’

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Francisco Gonzalez
  • 319th Communication Squadron commander

"The obvious thing for the cavalryman to do is to accept the fighting machine as a partner, and prepare to meet more fully the demands of future warfare."
"Do everything you ask of those you command."
-- General George S. Patton, Jr.

The "head fake" is a classic sports move used to trick an opponent into committing toward one direction while the other player moves opposite. Adrian Peterson, Michael Jordan, Pele, Ali, Norman Schwartzkopf... athletes and military leaders of all stripes have used it to varying degrees of success. Today I'd like to attempt to employ one in the literary sense; let's see if you can spot it.

As some of you reading this commentary may be aware, we are wrapping up the 2013 Cyber Security Awareness Month. The support from the base has been outstanding, and hopefully many of you learned a thing or two that you didn't know. If you can indulge me, I'd like to take a minute to talk about cyber security and what it means to you.

As warriors it is important to study history and the figures who made us who we are today. You'll notice two quotes from Gen. Patton at the start of this article. He was instrumental in making the U.S. Army, and by extension, the Air Force, what it is today. The quotes are prescient and relevant today because of the rapid change we are experiencing in how we engage in warfare. From Global Hawks to the High Frequency Global Communication System to the new tracking systems the Logistical Readiness Squadron is using, we are in a state of rapid change.

The first quote referring to the use of the tank as a new weapon is relevant in that it explains the kind of attitude we must adopt as we employ new weapons--in the case of this article, the networked computer. Yes, the network and the computers you use every day have transformed into a critical Air Force weapon system. If you don't believe me, think for a minute how we use those systems, not just as a military, but as individuals. As each day goes by, our society and our national security apparatus relies more and more on computers and the information those systems manipulate and store. From basic utilities like electricity and water to more complex machines like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, computers and cyber networks allow us to heighten our situational awareness, be more productive, lower costs, and shorten the amount of time we spend making decisions so that we can spend more time doing.

The military alone spends tens of billions of dollars a year developing, maintaining and improving these networks and computer systems in order to gain an asymmetric advantage over current and potential future adversaries. Computers are so prevalent that they are almost ubiquitous, and because of that ubiquity, the line between personal and professional use has blurred. Take a look around the next time you are getting a latte at Fast Eddie's or a burger at the bowling alley. I'll bet a lot of the people you see are on smart phones reading a text or an email. Are they reading "the joke of the day" email, or are they communicating with a co-worker to accomplish some last-second task. Are they doing both? The bottom line is that billions (yes, billions) of people, whether herding sheep in some remote location or driving a car on the Autobahn, are connected to someone else via a computer. This reality presents both opportunities for good and for ill.

While this prevalence of computing power has its obvious benefits, there is a downside, too. By integrating our private, professional and military lives via computers and networks, more and more of the things we hold dear migrate from our heads to our hands. In allowing this to happen, we've systematically created an environment where those digital secrets, those critical decision-making processes we rely upon are susceptible to exploitation and theft by those who would do us harm. Securing this information, equipment and process is difficult, and the greatest weakness to security is the individual. In other words, people are the key to cyber security, and in order to marshal people toward greater security, we need people to lead at all levels.

By now I hope you've realized the "head fake." You see, this commentary isn't really about cyber security; it's about people and leadership. I strongly believe that in order to attain greater security in cyberspace, we must grow, train, and nurture leaders at all levels to embrace security as a way of life, not just a series of regulations. That's where the second Gen. Patton quote comes into play. In the past, we've talked about the need to stop doing this, stop doing that, or requiring some new regulation, punishment tool, technical solution or piece of equipment to help us with our security "problem of the month." While all those things are relevant to a degree, the fundamental fact of the matter is that cyber security is about people and what people do or choose not to do. Cyber security is strongly correlated to the leadership people have and what they see their leaders do.

Commentaries like this one are relevant and spark discussion, but simply publishing them isn't enough. There must be practical application, there must be buy-in, and there must be, most of all, visible action. Cyber security is one area where you can apply all of these leadership principles. If we don't lead our organizations, our sections, and most importantly, ourselves, we'll never secure those things we hold dear. And in this leadership journey, we must recognize that leadership isn't about rank or position; it doesn't matter how many stripes you have on your sleeve or what the insignia looks like on your collar. All Airmen can be leaders through competence, initiative, enthusiasm and even obedience. In other words, we lead by doing what we demand of others.

Will we sometimes fall short? Yes, that's inevitable but can be overcome. I myself fall short every day in something or the other but I am fortunate to have leaders around me who point the way, many of them junior in rank to me. After all, we are human and we have flaws and make mistakes. But that can't be an excuse to avoid leading, not just in cyber security, but in everything we do.

I hope this commentary has given you something to think about. And hopefully, you were able to spot the second head fake: this editorial isn't just about cyber security and leadership; it's about you.